Unique and formulaic are two terms mentioned in the descriptions for Concrete Cowboy, which has screened at the Toronto Film Festival. The drama marks the directorial debut of Ricky Staub. It casts Caleb McLaughlin of Stranger Things fame as a troubled teen sent to live with his father (Idris Elba), who’s part of a group of urban cowboys outside of Philadelphia. This is based on the Greg Neri novel Ghetto Cowboy. Costars include Lorraine Toussaint (who’s said to be a highlight), Jharrel Jerome (Emmy winner for HBO’s lauded When They See Us), and Method Man.
Some early reviews are very positive while others say it’s a familiar tale in an unfamiliar setting. Concrete is seeking U.S. distribution at the festival and it should have no trouble finding it. Finding awards chatter is another story as this doesn’t immediately jump out as a major contender. Stranger things have happened, but I don’t foresee it being much of a factor with Academy voters. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
The Glorias is one of the more closely watched titles currently playing at the Sundance Film Festival. This is a biopic of feminist activist Gloria Steinem with four actresses, including Julianne Moore and Alicia Vikander, portraying her at various stages of life. In that sense, it resembles 2007’s I’m Not There. That unconventional Bob Dylan tale earned Cate Blanchett a nomination. The pic comes from famed theater director Julie Taymor, whose filmography includes 2002’s Frida which nabbed Salma Hayek a Best Actress nod.
Reviews are positive. However, as with everything else screening so early in 2020, time will tell when it comes to awards prospects. If The Glorias can develop buzz throughout the year, it will be interesting to monitor which performers garner attention. Obviously you start with Moore and Vikander (who have each previously won Oscars). Yet it’s supporting player Lorraine Toussaint who is being singled out for raves over Bette Midler (who could also contend) and Janelle Monae.
Whether any of the Gloria playing thespians and beyond are still in the mix months from now remains to be seen. Sundance has opened the door of possibility. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
Based upon Alvin Schwartz’s three horror short tale collections from the 1980s and early 1990s (with some celebrated illustrations by Stephen Gammell), Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has caught the attention of Guillermo del Toro. He has, of course, turned his monster material into Oscar winning work. Mr. del Toro didn’t direct this and he shares a producer and story credit. However, this reminds one of Steven Spielberg’s output at the time when Schwartz’s works were originally being released. Films like Poltergeist, Gremlins, and The Goonies came from other filmmakers, but they might as well have been made by Spielberg because his fingerprints are all over them. Andre Øvredal directed this and he’s proved his genre chops previously with effective material like The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Yet you get the feeling this is del Toro’s vision through and through.
Set in 1968 when political upheaval and the Vietnam War were true scary stories of their own, this brings us to a small Pennsylvania town in a year where Night of the Living Dead is just out. Teenage Stella (Zoe Colletti) is obsessed with the living dead as a horror enthusiast and aspiring writer. Her seemingly only friends are Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) and the trio gets their kicks by playing Halloween themed pranks on the school bullies. They are soon joined in this quest by drifter Ramon (Michael Garza), who appears to be living out of his car. Their exploits lead them to an alleged haunted house once lived in by the wealthy and mysterious Bellows family. Their daughter Sarah was a writer like Stella. The difference is that Sarah’s writing hasn’t stopped after death and her words describe the PG-13 horror antics that follow.
This plot line allows for a small number of Schwartz’s old tales to come to life. And the CG creature effects due to that are as solid as we’d expect from anything with del Toro’s name attached. A couple of sequences radiate with a ghoulish vibe that impresses. Those moments are scary, but there’s not a lot of them. The screenwriters occasionally bring the turbulent late 1960s happenings to the mix, but that feels a bit clumsy and tacked on as they don’t really commit to it.
Instead we have a novel concept from source material of anthological form. Perhaps Sarah and Schwartz’s short stories could have worked a little better had this been adapted into a series on Netflix or another streaming service. After all, it’s probably Stranger Things and its retro goldmine of success that sped up the green light here. There’s no doubt that the those involved (particularly one) have deep affection for what they’re adapting. Despite its moments, it’s the format that’s limiting.
Blogger’s Note (08/07): My prediction has increased from $10.7 million to $14.3 million
Based on a series of Alvin Schwartz horror novels geared towards children, ScaryStoriestoTellintheDark opens in theaters next weekend. Co-produced by Guillermo del Toro, the film comes from director André Øvredal who mostly recently made the critically appreciated TheAutopsyofJaneDoe. Cast members include Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Abrams, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, and Lorraine Toussaint.
The concoction of the horror genre marketing to a young audience is a risky one. I’m not confident this mix will result in pleasing box office earnings and I wouldn’t expect the “Stranger Things” crowd to turn out. Even though we’re talking PG-13 here vs. an R rating, I’ll project this performs similarly to what Overlord (which boasted its own known producer J.J. Abrams) did last year.
ScaryStoriestoTellintheDark opening weekend prediction: $14.3 million
For my DoraandtheLostCityofGold prediction, click here: